Hearing from stakeholders: Prison Reform Meetings

NCDPS and Corrections leaders discuss changes
Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 11:44am
Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks and several senior staff are continuing to travel across the state to meet with correctional officers, medical personnel, maintenance staff and other employees who work in some of North Carolina’s 55 prisons. While the Secretary has visited prisons in Wake, Franklin, Nash and Granville counties in the last few months, he and some of his executive team are stepping up these tours with face to face meetings with employees primarily designed for them to share what’s on their mind. Their goal is to hear from employees across all levels of the prison system about their ideas, observations and concerns regarding prison operations and reforms in North Carolina. These sessions will play a critical role as Secretary Hooks learns more about what works well and what may need to change inside state prisons.
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Bertie Correctional Institution
Windsor
Nov 7, 2017

More than 50 employees met with Secretary Hooks and DPS leaders during two town hall-type meetings at Bertie CI to voice their concerns and provide suggestions for improvements. This just one day after two similar forums at Pasquotank Correctional. Experience levels of those who participated in the forums at Bertie ranged from a few months to more than 25 years.

The employees echoed many of the same concerns, questions and thoughts shared on Monday by their colleagues at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City. Discussions ran the gamut, but recurring themes included:

  • Frequency of paychecks (benefits/drawbacks of monthly versus bi-weekly payroll);
  • Review of salary structures and equity across similar job functions;
  • Need for more mentoring and coaching for correctional officers;
  • Adding training for all prison employees, not just correctional officers;
  • New tools for employees to enhance safety;
  • Incentives for retaining good employees; and
  • Policy changes.

Of course, employee safety was on the minds of everyone, and Secretary Hooks stressed that it was his clear top priority. Employees shared that while they understood that their jobs are dangerous, like other law enforcement, they believe more can be done to make them feel safer. They also expressed that some policy changes could make their jobs less stressful.

Hooks cautioned employees that it will take time to identify and then implement some of the needed changes because they must determine the best balance between employees’ suggestions and changes that work for the large majority across the department.

The Secretary told employees, “I do not have a magic pill or I would have already put it in place, but with everyone’s help and input I am committed to making changes to try and prevent another tragedy.”

Since early October, the Secretary and senior managers have initiated several actions to make prisons safer including a thorough review of all inmates assigned to work in Correction Enterprises’ operations and review of emergency procedures at all facilities to enhance security.

Secretary Hooks expressed solidarity and partnership with BCI employees thanking them for valuable feedback and insight they shared.

“Our employees will play a vital role as change agents, Hooks noted, “we’re all in this together.”

 

Nash Correctional Institution
Nashville
November 8, 2017

Representing every unit at the prison, employees from Nash Correctional Institution met with DPS leaders during a town hall-type meeting on Wednesday. Like employees at Pasquotank CI and Bertie CI earlier in the week, the employees voiced concerns and provided suggestions for improvements.

The Nash employees shared similar concerns as heard at the other facilities having to do with training, mentoring versus career readiness, salaries, safety and their feelings about recruiting and retaining staff.

At one point in the discussion, an employee said he felt like corrections employees were the “bottom of the barrel” in the department. Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter was quick to point out that opinion was far from fact.

“Don’t ever accept that you are the bottom of the barrel,” Lassiter said. “You have to take pride in what you do.”

Employee safety continued to be on everyone’s minds, including medical staff. They shared concerns on the lack of correctional officers in certain areas.

Director Lassiter, who toured the facility afterward with senior staff, said the employees can help be change agents.

“Ideas don’t come from Raleigh,” he said. “We can’t fix it. We have to hear from you. You have to tell us about the problems.”

 

Prison Manager’s Meeting
Raleigh
November 9, 2017

Facility heads and other managers from across the state gathered for a daylong meeting to discuss a variety of topics to include staff retention and policy. Secretary Erik A. Hooks addressed the group and talked about not only recent incidents, but his primary focus was about moving forward with all levels of management and employee involvement.

“We have got to be unified and we have got to find a better way to do things to help keep our people safe and the public safe,” Secretary Hooks stated. “Nothing comes before safety.”

Secretary Hooks then talked about the employee engagement meetings he and some of his executive team have been involved in. He asked the managers what they thought are employees’ biggest concerns. The responses included: inmate disciplinary policy; growth of gangs in prison; employee disciplinary process; and pay disparities.

Managers then broke into smaller groups to discuss some of the aforementioned topics and propose potential improvements. Prisons Director Kenneth Lassiter closed out the day by designating certain task force topics and assigned managers to those task forces. He gave them a charge of getting to work and providing recommendations immediately. He said they will announce a date to reconvene in December.